THE British government is expected to scrap plans to introduce full border checks with the EU in what appears to be a significant policy U-turn.
The move comes as ministers face pressure from businesses not to exacerbate issues already being caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Michael Gove, Cabinet Office Minister, has now conceded that businesses should not be asked to cope with both Covid-19 and border disruptions at the same time, the Financial Times has claimed.
The paper alleged that instead of full checks, the government will put in place temporary ‘light-touch’ measures at UK ports, which will be in place regardless of whether there is a deal or a no-deal outcome.
However, it’s thought that goods coming into the EU from the UK will still be subject to checks when they enter French ports, the Financial Times reports.
It’s unclear when a formal announcement will be made by the government regarding the changes, though the FT added that Whitehall sources had said it could be as soon as Friday.
A Whitehall official told the paper that they recognised the impact that Covid-19 has had on British firms, and added: “As we take back control of our laws and borders at the end of this year, we will take a pragmatic and flexible approach.”
The government had announced back in February that it had confirmed plans to introduce import controls on EU goods at the UK border from January 1 after the Brexit transition period concludes.
At the time, Michael Gove said in a statement: “We are leaving the EU’s customs union and single market, taking back control of our borders, and beginning to strike deals around the world.”
Gove said that the border checks were put in place for a number of reasons, including to “keep our borders safe and secure” and to collect the correct amount of customs, VAT and excise duties.
He also said that the border checks were in response to the EU stating it would enforce similar checks on British goods entering the Eurozone.
Gove added: “The UK will be outside the single market and outside the customs union, so we will have to be ready for the customs procedures and regulatory checks that will inevitably follow.”
The import controls would not affect trade between Ireland and Northern Ireland, or between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, the government claimed.
However, on May 13, the government confirmed that it would enhance inspection posts at Northern Ireland ports in order to meet the terms of its Brexit deal.
The border check U-turn is not the only example of the government’s Brexit plans being scuppered by the Covid-19 outbreak.
Earlier this month the FT also reported that Whitehall officials are concerned that the government is struggling to rebuild drug stockpiles that have been depleted by the pandemic.
But there were also fears that medicine supplies would be even further jeopardised by a no-deal Brexit scenario.
A senior official told the FT that Health Secretary Matt Hancock has been told that “a stockpiling plan needs to be fixed by the end of June, anticipating no-deal.”
In other news, the EU’s top Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said last week said that little progress had been made as the fourth round of UK-EU trade deal talks came to an end on Friday 5.
Barnier said: “My job is to tell the truth, and to tell the truth, this week there have been no real areas of progress,” German broadcaster DW reports.
“The UK continues to backtrack on the commitments made in this declaration,” he added.
It’s understood that the negotiation deadlock continues over fair competition concerns, among other things.